a national treasure
One giant wall of the Diego Rivera mural in Detroit
One giant wall of the Diego Rivera mural in Detroit

Planning a trip to Michigan, we had heard about the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, so that was our first stop in a week’s trip to Michigan. It is adjacent to Greenfield Village, which we strolled around one morning, then took in the Museum in the afternoon.

Both are stellar places to visit. The Village was created by Henry Ford to showcase many of America’s original historic homes. There’s Ford’s home where he grew up, the home of the Wright Brothers, disassembled and moved to the site, and Thomas Edison’s laboratory. Real-size historic railroad engines move on a circular track around the park, and numerous historic buildings Americans lived in during an age when bringing out new labor-saving machines was happening in our country.

The Village is laid out like a city, while old-time cars chug around, hauling tourists. The stroll around the village is leisurely, and there’s decent food served in an old-style tavern.

Our afternoon visit to the Henry Ford Museum far exceeded our anticipation. It’s huge! And it feels like something that ought to have “Smithsonian” in its name.

Detail of auto assembly production
Detail of auto assembly production

Key American automobiles are highlighted. You see several presidential limousines, while there are most of the classic cars of the ages, from T Models and Edsels, to Thunderbirds and even brands other than Ford. There’s Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road” bus that he traveled the country in.

Interesting to us was the first Blue Bird school bus out of Ft. Valley, Ga., a wooden-sided yellow bus that would transform that town even to today. And trains, some of them monstrous! The snowplow-engine from Canada was our favorite.

If you go, plan at least a half a day at both the museum and village. The admission is pricey, but well worth it.

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On our second full day staying in Dearborn, we motored 16 miles to downtown Detroit, for a visit to the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). (If you are a High Museum member, you can get in free.)

The DIA is amazing, a museum with numerous pieces of fine art. It would take several days to totally see it. It has treasures galore and recently escaped having to sell many of the masterpieces threatened because of Detroit’s financial problems.

Yet the key reason for visiting was to see the Diego Rivera mural masterpiece in the main hall. Commissioned by Henry Ford himself to depict the modern assembly line on the massive main hall, in three years Rivera provided the world an enormous, beautiful and historic work. People are shown in their various labors in factories, while the massiveness of the operation overwhelms you. The many vignettes show different aspects of a working factory, complete with supervisors (some of them with hats on) observing the workers. Some of the art work is critical of the way Ford assembly lines operated.

Another wall showing details of assembly line
Another wall showing details of assembly line

Everywhere you turn in the great hall, there’s Rivera art, massive, yet intricate, all telling a story. It’s worth a visit to this gigantic museum, if you see nothing else in Detroit.

Detroit may be hurting these days, but we know that the Detroit Institute of Art itself is a national treasure.

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One more thing about Detroit. Pepsi Cola is dominant. There’re no Coca-Colas at Comerica Park (where we saw the Tigers play). And if you want a Coke at the Detroit Airport, you are out of luck, since you can’t take one in with you. But that’s also the case at the Gwinnett Arena. Perhaps Coke will bid higher next time the Gwinnett contract comes round.

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Editor's Note: This story first appeared at the Gwinnett Forum. Image: the images in the story were provided by the author, Elliott Brack.
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County, http://www.gwinnettforum.com, and Georgia news, http://www.georgiaclips.com.